ROCOR-A: Open Letter from Fr Gregory Williams

Fr Gregory Williams of the ROCOR under Metropolitan Agafangel, was kind enough to write on the OrthodoxWest list concerning the history of the ROCOR-A for the listmembership there at the request of NFTU‘s editor. We’ve decided to reproduce it here for our readers, as it’s a very concise historical text. NFTU


Rd. Joseph Suaiden (Notes From The Underground blog) asked me, not a member of the OrthodoxWest list (I simply don’t have time & energy for such things), to respond to a couple of posts from (ROCOR-MP) Fr. Ambrose (with whom I am not personally acquainted, but with whom I have communicated in the distant past), and to the broader issues they raise. I explicitly give permission for the posting of this response on that list, if he so chooses, and for further distribution if anyone so desires. What I have to say is not in any sense “secret” or “privileged”.

So who am I to speak? Ordained in ROCOR in 1980 by Bp. Gregory (Grabbe) under the primacy of St. Philaret (who had intended to ordain me himself but was too ill to do so), I’ve thus served nearly 30 years in ROCOR. I was appointed by act of the Synod of Bishops administrator of the Church’s missions in Haiti in 1999. After the submission of Met. Laurus & those with him to the Moscow Patriarchate in 2007, that appointment was reaffirmed by the Council of the PSEA of the continuing ROCOR and expanded to include non-Slavonic/Russian missions in general, as part of the Department of Missions (interestingly, the All-Russian Sobor of 1917 authorized the establishment of such a department, but neither the Soviet church nor the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad had ever done so). I am 68 years old (relevance later on) and have since 1979 been editor, publisher, clerk & chief bottle-washer of the St. John of Kronstadt Press. So much for that.

Ground rules: Facts are best. Informed speculation or guesses not inadmissible, but also not very useful. Wild speculations, rumors and gossip (which account for about 90% of all internet traffic) are completely useless and often destructive. Personal attacks are completely out of bounds. Numbers in and of themselves don’t mean much (one man and the Truth constitute a majority), but falsehoods about numbers can be seriously misleading.

Position: Prior to May 17, 2007, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia had maintained a consistent stance for some 80 years (though with several shifts in organization), witness to the true Tradition of the Church, repeatedly rejecting and denouncing the activities of the Soviet-created, inspired and controlled Moscow Patriarchate. From the late 70s, the issues broadened, with the growing ecumenist activities of the MP and its cohorts in “world Orthodoxy”. It has now become apparent that at least as early as the early 90s there was a “worm within” engineering what finally revealed itself as the determination to submit to the MP, totally abandoning ROCOR’s historic tradition. By this action, those who submitted CEASED to be ROCOR in any meaningful sense, becoming instead a department of the MP. As such, they are no longer of much interest to us.

Some went along with this submission enthusiastically, vast numbers of others impassively (as long as they could continue being “Russian” and maintain their properties and positions), and not a few kicking and screaming up until the last minute, finally falling silent for reasons known only to themselves. BUT there were others (of which more below) whose consciences would not permit such an action and who simply remained in place, continuing the existence, albeit diminished in numbers, of ROCOR as it had so long been.

Shortly after, Fr. Andrew Phillips (one of the enthusiastic pro-‘union’ ones) characterized those who refused to submit as “a few eccentric old men”, or words to that effect. Fr. Ambrose characterizes us as a “few clergy (who) have chosen to go into schism.”

The only components of these allegations which are entirely accurate are “men” (insofar as clergy only are concerned) and “clergy”. I’ll swallow “eccentric” for myself, and I suppose for most of the rest of us — if “eccentric” means being at odds with “the establishment” (as redefined by the proponents of submission).

I would certainly, I suppose, qualify as “old”, as would Fr. Vsevelod Dutikow (even older, but astoundingly spry). But unless I’m mistaken we are amongst the oldest of our clergy (certainly in the US & Canda). It occurred to me at the Vth Sobor last November to look around the delegates (by no means all our clergy were present, of course). My rough estimate of the average age of the delegates was less than 50. “Old”?

“Few” is the most misleading term in these allegations. Shortly after the submission I met for one last time with my former bishop, Bp. Gabriel. His count of the number of clergy (bishops, priests & deacons) who had refused to submit was 75+ (not, I think, counting any of those lost to the premature schisms well before the submission, a considerable number in itself). My rough estimate (at least somewhat authoritative, as the publisher of the semi-official Directory up until 2005 and maintainer of the supporting database) of the total number of clergy prior to the submission was about 225. In other words — about 1/3 of ROCOR clergy refused the submission. “Few”?

As to ROCOR now, as of the November 2008 Sobor, it counts some 75 clergy, nearly all of whom (excepting a few recently ordained) were ROCOR clergy prior to the submission of May 07. The bulk of the parishes (and clergy, I think) are in Ukraine, but there are a significant number of parishes in the US & Canada, South America & Australia (I suppose more or less invisible from New Zealand).

“There is no division within the Russian Church Abroad,” writes (ROCOR-MP) Fr. Ambrose. I fully agree (we just don’t agree as to where is ROCA). There are those who have remained within it, those who out of fear of the impending betrayal long before went into schism, those who, faced with the imminent submission, chose other paths (the Synod in Resistance, the synod of Met. Chrysostomos, the “Tikhonites”, primarily), and those who chose, actively or by default, to be swallowed up by the MP (which, by the way, blatantly continues its Segianist and ecumenist path, powerfully affirmed by its selection of its latest “patriarch”).

“No canonical measures have been take against most of them.” Actually, not any, so far as I know. But if so, so what? None of us have ever been clergy of the Moscow Patriarchate, and if it (or its subordinates) took such action it would have no more significance than being “suspended” or “deposed” by the papacy.

“Naturally one would expect that there would be dissent. There would have been dissent from the other direction if we had NOT united with the Church of Russia. There were clergy who were ready to do so independently if we had not made the move as a body.”

Well, of course. But, as previously demonstrated, “we” did NOT “make the move as a body”, but only PART of a body. It is certainly arguable (if relevant; now time for informed speculation) as to whether “more” would have submitted to the MP “independently” than refused in fact to submit. I strongly suspect that the answer would be decisively the opposite of what Fr. Ambrose implies, though I’m quite certain there would have been a significant number (if, that is, the MP would have had them on any other terms than the abject submission of the “body”).

Personally, though I am deeply grieved by the loss of sacramental communion with many of my brother clergy with whom I thought I stood on common ground, to say nothing of all the remaining Orthodox members of my own family (apart from Matushka), I am profoundly relieved no longer to have to deal with the constant ambiguities and ambivalence of being in sacramental communion with clergy who were blatant propagandists for the MP and who egregiously violated the policies of their own hierarchy (perhaps with tacit consent) with respect to intercommunion with ecumenists and modernists. They have “gone home” and I live much more peacefully with them out of “my home”.

If I can be helpful to anyone who reads this who seriously seeks clarification and enlightenment, I’m willing. But I am not willing to spend time and energy on endless debate, and do not wish to wear out my delete key disposing of quarrelsome and tiresome messages (maybe that’s “cranky”, but so be it).

In Christ Jesus,
Fr. Gregory+
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